By GREGORY ZELLER //
“Space for lease” can be a tricky proposition, depending on the space you need to lease.
Just ask East/West Industries President Teresa Ferraro, who in February led her certified woman-owned small business through an intra-Ronkonkoma move to its new 50,000-square-foot home – but only after a lengthy search for just the right fit.
The pilgrimage was “a long time in the making,” according to Ferraro, who noted several relocation roadblocks. Chief among them: finding enough elbow room for a thriving manufacturer that’s spent nearly five decades developing, assembling and distributing new-and-improved aircraft seats and life-support systems, primarily for military vehicles.
“On Long Island, everyone always sees ‘for rent’ signs,” Ferraro told Innovate LI. “But under 50,000 square feet is much easier to find.”
That wouldn’t do for East/West Industries, which launched in Hauppauge in 1968 and has grown through the decades into a premier defense contractor. In recent years, that growth has included an employment spike – 50 full-time employees at the end of 2015, 75 at the end of 2016 and upwards of 85 by the end of this year, according to Ferraro – and the introduction of new equipment, including an advanced 3D printer system with small-scale manufacturing capabilities.
Those happy developments left things a little cramped in East/West Industries’ former home – but the main reason for the move, Ferraro noted, was the sheer amount of work coming her company’s way, from the Department of Defense, prime contractors including Northrup Grumman and Boeing and major systems suppliers like Honeywell.
“We just needed to have more floor space to support all the contract awards we’ve been receiving from the major primes,” she said. “So, with that in mind, we began our search.”
Finding a space offering 50,000 to 70,000 square feet – enough to cover current workloads and expand later – was challenging enough. But East/West Industries’ needs went beyond simple square footage.
Among the many ongoing programs in the manufacturer’s portfolio is a contract to produce five specialized cranes per month for Lockheed. The cranes, used for moving around aircraft parts weighing up to 1,500 pounds, are tall – 21 feet high, requiring a 22-foot minimum clearance – and must be tested indoors, so not just any 50,000-square-foot space would do.
East/West Industries also wanted to stick close to Long Island MacArthur Airport, which during the company’s time in Ronkonkoma had proven to be a major convenience for out-of-state customers.
“We deal with a lot of customers – like the Navy, Northrup Grumman and Boeing – who like to fly into (the) Islip airport,” Ferraro noted.
Ironically, East/West Industries’ exhaustive search for a new home meeting all these very specific requirements ultimately led the company right back to Ronkonkoma. The new space – complete with 24-foot-high ceilings – is part of a 200,000-square-foot building currently occupied by two other tenants. And as part of its new lease, East/West was granted first right of refusal on an adjacent 60,000-square-foot space occupied by one of them, a warehousing firm whose lease expires in 2021.
Ferraro isn’t sure she’ll need quite that much space quite so soon, but “considering some of the programs we’re currently bidding on, if we’re successful, that’s a possibility.”
East/West Industries also has the option of taking part of any new square footage that opens up in the building – an irresistible sweetener for a company that was thrilled to relocate close to home, with a Long Island-based workforce hanging in the balance.
“We can keep our employees,” Ferarro said. “We’re in the same perimeter and just a half-mile from the airport.”
Her employees are important to the president, who has focused recent recruiting efforts on armed forces veterans. By reaching out to veteran’s groups, attending hire-a-vet job fairs and affiliating with Long Island’s U.S. Air National Guard leaders, the longtime defense manufacturer has created an economic and social win-win-win.
Long Island veterans get good-paying job opportunities in the front office and on the assembly line; military end-users get quality products from dedicated workers with added incentive; and the woman-owned business adds another notch to its socially conscious belt, not to mention a skilled and eager workforce.
“Our veterans have a work ethic that’s extremely critical to making sure the needed attention is put into the products we supply to aircrews,” Ferraro noted. “We need to ensure the proper attention to detail is in every product we make. Our products save aircrew lives.”
Add to the mix that Fortus 250mc 3D Production System – still used exclusively for R&D purposes, Ferraro noted, but with those additional manufacturing capabilities at the ready – and things are flying high indeed inside East/West Industries’ new home. But it might have been a very different story, the president added, if the Town of Islip Industrial Development Agency hadn’t stepped in with a tax-incentives package that made the relocation tenable.
“They enabled us to stay in Suffolk County,” Ferarro said. “They enabled us to maintain these jobs, both for veterans and our long-tenured employees.
“And they enabled us to create a lot more employment growth.”